Braves pound Giants, face Lincecum next

In the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Giants, when Brian McCann’s three-run homer pushed the lead to 8-0, Braves fans might have wondered if it was too late to save some runs for Wednesday.

The surging Braves can expect a greater challenge from San Francisco All-Star Tim Lincecum on Wednesday than what they got in an 8-1 win against the Giants on Tuesday at Turner Field.

“It’s a great feeling when everybody’s playing good and everybody’s playing together,” said second baseman Martin Prado, whose three hits helped the Braves to their 14th win in 20 games and fifth in six games since the All-Star break.

“Everybody’s happier. That’s the way it should be,” Prado said.

Derek Lowe (9-7) pitched six strong innings, and McCann drove in four runs as the Braves pounded the Giants for the second night in a row, moving to two games over .500 (48-46) for the first time since May 25.

“We had everything tonight — the pitching and the defense and the hitting,” manager Bobby Cox said. “Derek threw a great game, and we had a lot of timely hitting. Mac had the big three-run homer to make it a little bit easier.”

Braves center fielder Nate McLouth left after six innings with a strained lower back, but Cox said he might be back in the lineup as soon as Wednesday for the third game of the four-game series.

“If we keep our lineup healthy and keep everybody playing every day,” Prado said, “we’ve got a pretty good shot at October.”

The Braves have missed the postseason the past three years and entered Tuesday in second place in the National League East, 6-1/2 games behind division-leader Philadelphia and four games behind wild-card-leader Colorado.

As Cox spoke to reporters after the game, the manager kept an eye on the Phillies-Cubs extra-innings game on a television in his office. He was asked if he has been keeping an eye on the out-of-town scoreboard to follow the Phillies and the other division and wild-card contenders.

“I look at the scoreboard every game. I’m not denying it,” he said, smiling.

McCann, whose homer was his 10th, but only his second in 20 games, was also asked about scoreboard-watching.

“Everybody knows what’s going on, where we stand,” he said. “It’s getting to be that time. Coming to the stretch. Every game’s important. We’ve just got to keep playing good baseball.”

The way the Braves’ engines are humming right now, even Lincecum might not seem as insurmountable as usual. The Braves have scored five or more runs 11 times in their past 19 games, which they did only seven times in the previous 24 games.

They have scored seven or more runs five times in their past seven games, including twice in as many nights against the Giants, who entered with the best ERA in the major leagues.

The Braves have outscored them 19-4, the most runs allowed by the Giants in consecutive games this season.

Lowe gave up one run, seven hits and one walk to improve to 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA in his past three starts, after one of the worst stretches of his career as a starter. He had been 0-4 with an 8.61 ERA in his previous five starts.

Lowe praised the defense, particularly the middle-infield duo of shortstop Yunel Escobar and Prado, who turned a spectacular inning-ending double play in the first inning, thwarting the Giants after two singles to start the game.

McCann’s double in the first staked Lowe to an 1-0 lead, and the Braves added three runs in the third on four hits, including Chipper Jones’ RBI double.

Giants starter Ryan Sadowski (2-2) lasted 3-2/3 innings and was charged with eight runs and eight hits.